Broken and Failing: The American School System

The American education system has been a site of stress, grief, and anxiety, rather than a place to educate tomorrow’s leaders. Instead of a place where students can learn and develop their creative ideas and grow, it’s a system that puts students down, drowns creativity, and takes a toll on students’ mental health. Developing a plan to move schools in the correct direction, on the other hand, is easier said than done.

The first step is to identify the underlying issues that are preventing students from learning at the moment. There are many issues that students and teachers go through that aren’t known by the general public, so this should help get everyone on the same page.

Homework is one of the biggest stresses a student has. When a student gets home from school, the first thing that usually comes to mind is worrying about how much homework they have and how much homework they have to get done. Many students have stated that homework causes them to get less sleep than they should. According to Danny Zangrelli, a student at BF Middle School, says, “The more homework, the more stress in my life because of how crammed everything becomes.” 

 It is also extremely counterproductive. It negatively affects the performance of students because of the amount of stress on their shoulders. When students are worrying about loads of homework they have that night, they can’t focus on their actual in-school work. Paraphrasing a Stanford study, “56 percent of the student’s considered homework a primary source of stress…The remaining students viewed tests and the pressure to get good grades as the primary stressors. Notably, less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.” This is very alarming. If over 99% of students agree that homework is a stressor, it shows that something NEEDS to change.

However, in a country like Finland, it’s a different story. According to, “The truth is that there is nearly no homework in the country with one of the top education systems in the world. Finnish people believe that besides homework, there are many more things that can improve a child’s performance in school, such as having dinner with their families, exercising or getting a good night’s sleep.” They have nearly no homework and most of the students that go to school in Finland become more successful in their future career and lives. In fact, they believe that, “according to OECD, the more time students spend on homework, the worse they perform in school.” 

All students learn differently and have different ways of comprehending in which all learn in different ways. According to Students for Social Change, “Students are crammed into a classroom and taught in a standardized way. Creativity is restricted. They aren’t allowed to harness their inquisitive minds. Questioning things is part of the analytic mind and a key to societal development, but this takes a backseat to examinations.” Considering this, all children are all learning the same way, and the learning methods are very standardized making it hard for some to understand or focus. 

Not only do students have a hard time, but the American school system is bad for teachers as well. The U.S. was 7th in PISA, a test that 15-year-olds take, test scores in 2018, behind Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, New Zealand, and the U.K., and slightly more points than the OECD, the Organization for Economic Development, which consists of 36 countries, of which the U.S. is a part of. In the US, teachers work for 9 hours and 14 minutes, which is an hour and a half more than the OECD average, only a couple minutes less than the UK, a couple of minutes more than Singapore and New Zealand, and 3 hours less than New Zealand. 

Teachers in the U.S. on average teach for over 5 and a half hours, whereas the average in the other countries is 3 and a half hours to 4 hours. And yet, although teachers in the US teach for way more hours than the countries with higher PISA scores and work for way more hours than the OECD average and a lot of the other countries with higher test scores, teachers only make only $0.65 for every dollar a college graduate makes, whereas the OECD average, teachers make $0.88 for every dollar a college graduate makes, and the average teacher in an OECD country works for hours less and teaches for hours less. Due to all of these factors, it would make sense why ⅓ of teachers in America think Society values teachers in America, whereas, in Finland, ⅔ of Finnish teachers think society values teachers in their country. Also, in America, teachers are 2 times more likely to leave teaching for good than in Finland. The number of teachers in the U.S. is shrinking steadily but the number of students is increasing steadily, and it’s a major problem. 

Although our broken system needs drastic change, there are many ways we can improve our education system. One way that is proven to help is by reducing testing. The system we have now revolved around testing. Learning material just until a test then disregarding information in which students believe they don’t need anymore. Reducing the level of testing would help loosen the straps of the ongoing system of teachers “teaching to test” meaning that the teacher teaches a topic enough so the students can do well on a test, then move on to another topic. 

The testing puts weight and stress on students’ and teachers’ lives, as well as ruining their mental health. Testing results make students have nervous breakdowns and some students base their lives on the grade they get on an assignment, not just the grade itself can ruin a student’s mental health and life also their parent’s approval. Parents can be really harsh when it comes to grades mostly for the well-being of their child but that pressure that they place on the child leaves a mark. “When unexpected tests come up along with homework, and I have to study on top of doing my homework, it becomes very stressful,” another student at BF Middle School, J.P. Skorik says.

Testing should not be removed altogether, but rather, having shorter tests less often and only when needed, like a placement test used for high school. 

Another way to improve school learning in general and create a fun and relaxing environment is project-based classwork, which is more rigorous than traditional book-based instruction, where students may only retain knowledge from a single source. In addition to working together on project teams and being guided by trained professors, students develop the skills of collaborating, controlling emotions, and resolving difficulties in groups. Assessments should go beyond test scores to provide a comprehensive picture of a student’s strengths and shortcomings throughout time. Teachers, parents, and individual students can monitor academic progress and use the assessment to identify problem areas. Students should be able to correct their errors, retake the test, and improve their test scores.

As far as implementing ways that we could be taught, basing our education system on the life they will live after school is a lot better than what we have now, where students will learn about some jobs available to them in the future, things like taxes and the economy, and the world around them. Also, we need to be taught our lessons differently. Instead of working mindlessly on assignments for grades, we need to have interactive and creative activities where we have fun and make the students WANT to learn. 

It’s time we start looking out for the leaders for tomorrow, rather than drowning them in stress, sorrow, and an Amazon rainforest’s worth of textbooks and packets. Instead of a system built on tests and benchmarks, let’s make a school system built on learning built on both buildings a stronger workforce and intelligent and responsible individuals. This system needs radical change and we need it now if we want every generation to be much more intelligent and much better off than the one before it.